What is psychiatric malpractice?

People typically don’t associate medical malpractice with psychiatry. Many don’t even realize that it’s possible to file a malpractice suit against a psychiatrist.

However, psychiatrists are doctors, and they can wield considerable power over people – many of whom come to see them when they’re emotionally fragile or traumatized. That means they have the ability to do harm – sometimes fatal harm — if they’re negligent or make mistakes.

Some common types of psychiatric malpractice

Psychiatric malpractice has nothing to do with failing to “cure” a patient. There’s often no such thing when it comes to mental and emotional disorders. However, psychiatrists still owe their patients a duty of care.

Here are some things that may warrant a malpractice suit:

  • Prescribing improper medications or treatments
  • Not getting informed consent for the use of certain types of medication (like psychotropic drugs)
  • Creating false memories
  • Sharing patient information without their consent(unless it involves an explicit, credible threat to harm someone)
  • Having sex or a sexual relationship with a patient
  • Failing to do a suicide risk assessment

Sometimes, psychiatrists can be held liable if they fail to prevent a patient’s suicide. However, that can be tricky. It depends on the specific circumstances. As with any malpractice action, plaintiffs have to show that the doctor’s negligence was responsible for the harm that occurred.

What about other mental health professionals?

While psychiatrists have medical degrees, a number of other types of mental health professions don’t require one (although other types of degrees and/or licenses are typically required). Many people go to psychologists, licensed marriage and family therapists (LMFTs) and other types of therapists.

They also have a duty of care to the people they see. While they can’t prescribe medication, they can face a medical malpractice suit for doing (or failing to do) the other kinds of things listed above if a patient suffers harm.

If you or a loved one has suffered harm because of the actions or negligence of a psychiatrist or other mental health professional, it’s wise to find out what legal options you may have for seeking justice and compensation.



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